Friday, May 27, 2022

Ultima Underworld II: Enchantment!

The floor of the arena, after I'm done experimenting with spells.
Based on your revelations that I could have found a fraznium circlet near the vault and thus entered the more valuable of the two vaults on my first trip, I decide to take the time to re-do the Scintillus Academy test. I find a few new wands and scrolls along the way, so the trip isn't entirely wasted.
At the top of the academy, I find the fraznium circlet behind a secret door in one of the instructors' rooms and use it to get through the bars of light. At first, it looks like the room beyond is empty, but I click around frantically and finally uncover a hidden floor panel that spills out several VAS and TYM stones, a jeweled Axe of Fire Doom (I wish I'd put points into axes), and Wine of Restoration.
Back in Britannia, I take the only available gem facet I haven't already taken. I end up in a stone chamber with a bedroll, a fire, and some bottles of water. An old man soon appears, confused as to where I came from. He wants to know if "Dorstag's mages" sent me to kill him. He begs for his life and offers to serve me as a slave if I spare him. When I say I'm not the sort of person who keeps slaves, he misinterprets and attacks me. After one blow, he surrenders and again pledges himself as my slave.
The old man gives his name as "Krilner the Coward," apparently having sworn an oath to always give that name after he lost his first duel. Upon questioning, he reveals that his world is controlled by the Guardian and that we are in its most notorious prison, the Pits of Carnage. Here, warriors prove their prowess in one of four arenas, but even just walking around can get you killed if you don't have your weapon at the ready. The law of the land is that anyone can challenge anyone else at any time. The mightiest warrior is named Dorstag, and he carries a blackrock gem.
Up the corridor, in a small room, a man named Jospur arranges arena battles for gold. Each battle costs 5 gold, and I can fight two, three, four, or five foes for increasing returns depending on how many I beat. This seems like a perfect opportunity to test out some spells, so I start fighting two at a time. Throughout the rest of this session, I take opportunities where I can find them to test exploration spells. This is what I can report. Keep in mind that the cost of a spell is its level times three.

Level 1

  • Create Food (IN MANI YLEM): Good in an emergency. Food is pretty plentiful otherwise.
  • Detect Traps (WIS JUS): Couldn't find a place to test this. Traps are essentially a non-issue in this game.
  • Light (IN LOR): Essential; I've had it going since the beginning of the game. Replaced only by "Daylight," which I just got.
  • Luck (BET OR IN): If it ever made a detectable difference, it was many levels ago.
  • Magic Arrow (ORT JUX): Weak, difficult to target. It takes three times as many of these spells as sword blows (at my current skill with both) to kill the same enemy. It would be a good early spell against enemies that stand still for some reason.
  • Resist Blows (BET IN SANCT): Stood still in the arena against two foes with the spell inactive and died in 46 seconds. Retried with the spell active and only lasted 26. The spell had worn off at around 20 seconds. Tried again and lasted 30. It seems to me that other rolls of the die swiftly overwhelm the protective value of the spell, which lasts a dismally short time anyway.
  • UUS DES POR: This undocumented spell is found in Nystul's lab. I guess it bounces you off the ground if you jump from a height. I can see a couple of places it might have been useful in the Scintillus Academy if I'd timed it right. I had forgotten about it. 
  • BET WIS EX: The ice caves mentioned this spell, which locates you on the map. I haven't encountered any situation in which the map hasn't worked without it.
Level 2
  • Cause Fear (QUAS CORP): This spell worked nicely in the arena against two opponents. It made one flee for about 20 seconds while I took care of the other one. 
  • Deadly Seeker (ORT WIS JUX): I don't know. This one has the same targeting issues as "Magic Arrow." It supposedly "tracks down and strikes an opponent," but I don't see a lot of tracking down or striking. It mostly seems to fizzle away.
  • Jump (UUS POR): You saw it in action last time. Useful for a few occasions in which you have to jump extra high.
  • Lesser Heal (IN BET MANI): Perhaps the most cast spell in my repertoire. Heals about an average of 7 hit points for 6 mana points.
  • Rune of Flame (IN FLAM JUX): Sets up a flame trap that explodes when enemies approach. It's nice to have a trap option, but it doesn't seem to do much damage. It's hard to target unless enemies are in a narrow corridor.
I cast a flame rune for this warrior to walk into.
  • Slow Fall (REL DES POR): Fall damage is so light and infrequent that I don't think it makes sense to take time to line up the runes. 
Level 3
  • Bleeding (JUX MANI): I'd definitely been overlooking this one. Three castings were enough to kill one fighter, although three is all I can cast before I have to rest. It doesn't require space between the caster and target the way that "Magic Missile" does. I'm sure I've had the runes all game, too.
  • Cure Poison (AN NOX): Poison wears away on its own. I only bother to cure it if I have a leech or potion. 
  • Dispel Rune (AN JUX ORT): I've only encountered one rune in this game, and when I did, I forgot about the spell.
But I didn't forget the second time (recounted below)!
  • Lightning (ORT GRAV): I could kill a fighter in about four hits with this if I could hit them. The problem, as with many missile spells, is that you can't use it if enemies are too close. Thus, you have to lead them down long corridors where they'll approach along predictable paths.
  • Night Vision (QUAS LOR): Illuminates a greater area than "Light" but makes everything black and white. No longer necessary after you get "Daylight."
  • Speed (REL TYM POR): I found the extra speed essentially undetectable. I can't think of a reason I'd need to be faster anyway.
  • Water Walk (YLEM POR): Has been helpful throughout the game on water areas.
  • AN KAL CORP: I picked this up in Killorn Keep. It promises to turn undead, but I never used it.
Level 4
  • Flameproof (SANCT FLAM): I didn't have a chance to use it this session, but I can think of several times it would have come in handy, assuming it works against lava, too.
  • Heal (IN MANI): A slightly better deal than "Lesser Heal," healing an average of around 17 hit points for 12 mana points.
  • Missile Protection (GRAV SANCT POR): I dismissed this spell until it ultimately helped me in a big way--see below.
  • Poison Weapons (NOX JUX YLEM): Wow, did this one work nice! When I cast it in the arena, I was able to kill enemies in two blows compared to the five or six it was taking before the spell. This is definitely becoming part of my repertoire.
  • Remove Trap (AN JUX): If ever find a trap, I'll tell you.
  • Study Monster (WIS MANI): Basically just tells you current enemy hit points. I resent having to cast a spell to see this.
Like I'm going to fumble around with this in combat.
  • IN AN FLAM: I find this literally as I'm testing spells. There's a chamber across the way from where Jospur takes your money from the arena fights. The corpse of a mage is here, along with a note that gives the formula for the spell. I cast it a few times in the arena. It makes sparkles in the air, but I never saw any signs that it was directly damaging anyone.
Level 5
  • Fireball (POR FLAM): Nice when you can get it to target appropriately. I was able to kill arena fighters in three shots. But I had to spend a lot of time running around to line up the shots, and half the time I lost my mana without being able to shoot the spell.
  • Levitate (UUS HUR POR): Nice for certain areas--areas that I've already passed.
  • Name Enchantment (ORT WIS YLEM): Identifies items. I had pumped up my "Lore" skill hoping to not have to waste spell points on this. But I'm not wasting any more points on that skill. 
  • Open (EX YLEM): The mage's solution to not having lockpicking ability. Vital.
  • Smite Undead (AN CORP MANI): I didn't face any undead this trip; I'm still waiting to try it.
  • Telekinesis (ORT POR YLEM): I've only found one or two puzzles where flipping something from a distance was useful.
  • REL SANCT YLEM: An awesome "Repair" spell that I picked up in the prison tower. Since I achieved a level high enough to cast it, I've been casting it every time my equipment gets down to "Worn." Completely obviates the "Repair" skill. 

I repair my Chain Cowl of Valor, which has taken a beating in these arena battles.
Level 6
  • Charm (QUAS REL WIS):  Doesn't seem to work for me. I tried it on the fighters in the arena, and they didn't stop attacking. I suppose it might be useful for buying and selling, but honestly, the economy isn't tight enough to require that kind of fine-tuning.
  • Daylight (VAS IN LORE): Awesome. This game is so dark until you get this spell.
"Daylight" makes such a difference that I want to re-explore previous places.
  • Gate Travel (VAS REL POR): I guess it's an easy way to warp back to a place. It occurs to me you could use it as a navigation spell by tossing one of the moonstones, say, across a gap or up onto a ledge, then casting it. I haven't seen a reason to do this yet, but I'll look for one.
  • Greater Heal (VAS IN MANI): Fully restores health for 18 spell points, a much better deal than the other two healing spells. You have to let your health get really low to maximize its value.
  • Invisibility (VAS SANCT LOR): A great stealth spell for a non-stealth game. I tried it in combat, and it didn't seem to interrupt the enemies in their charge towards me. I'll look for an opportunity to use it elsewhere.
  • Paralyze (AN EX POR): Helped a bit in the arena. It doesn't last very long, though, and its high casting cost means I can only cast it a couple of times.
I "paralyze" one warrior so I can focus on the other.
  • Sheet Lightning (VAS ORT GRAV): I don't know. It backfired on me more than the others, and when it cast, it didn't seem to do much of anything. Maybe I need to experiment more.

The Level 7 spells backfired a lot, so I decided to save them for later. At the end of the first six levels, I still don't feel like I have a reliable offensive spell except maybe "Bleeding." I figure my best bet to defeat five enemies in the arena (the ultimate achievement) is to cast "Poison Weapons" immediately, then save the rest for "Greater Heal." But "Poison Weapons" works so well that I don't even need to cast "Greater Heal" once. In only about 45 seconds, I manage to kill five foes at once.

Enemies in the arena drop weapons, food, gold, and other items when they die, so by the time I'm done with my battles, the entire arena floor is covered with excess stuff. I've left piles of gold on Jospur's floor because I don't have the room for all my winnings. I gained 8 skill points during the process but still haven't hit Level 14. 
The boons of experimentation.
I continue exploring the Pits of Carnage. The place seems to be in the same world as the Scintillus Academy, as the NPCs mention the place. There are lower levels to the Pits of Carnage, but no one goes down there unless they get desperate. A mage named Zogith tells me that another mage named Zoria is the second-best fighter in the place. "She strikes down her foes in the Arena with fire and lightning before they can get close enough to lay a finger on her." He also mentions a powerful mage named Zoranthus who lives in the lower levels. Zogith wants me to bring him a FLAM rune. I think I found two in the Academy, but I stupidly put them both in my rune bag, and you can't take them out once they're in there.
The random fighters in the area give me a lot more respect.
There are rats and slimes in the hallways that I have to kill. In a forgotten corner, amidst some bones, I find a Small Shield of Additional Protection. This is my current kit:
  • Chain Cowl of Valor
  • Quiver (no idea why)
  • Jeweled Sword of Major Damage
  • Small Shield of Additional Protection
  • Chain gauntlets
  • Mail Leggings of Additional Protection
  • Chain boots
  • Silver Ring of Protection
In the northwest corner, I find the chambers of Dorstag. He clearly wants to challenge me in combat, but apparently the person that issues the challenge is at a disadvantage because the other person gets to choose the arena. When I finally challenge him, he chooses the Arena of Fire.
Doh! He got me.
There are four arenas--Fire, Water, Air, Earth. I've been doing most of my practicing in Earth because it's just a bare floor. The Arena of Fire has a central platform surrounded by small pillars, all sticking out of a lake of lava. This arena favors Dorstag because he's a deadly shot with a crossbow, and there's limited room to run and dodge around.
I try a number of strategies against Dorstag to no avail. My spell power keeps running out long before I do any serious damage to him; he hits too hard and fast for me to keep up with healing; and I already exhausted most of my healing potions elsewhere. I finally defeat him by cheesing the interface a bit. The central platform has a couple of tiers, and enemies in this game have trouble walking up steps. I force him to a lower step and then back off. He starts shooting his crossbow at me, but I cast "Missile Protection." It takes me a couple of castings, but eventually he runs out of bolts and then just stands there stupidly. I then pump all the charges from a couple of wands into him.
Dorstag is a tough character.
He dies from a "Fireball," and I watch helplessly as a lot of presumably good equipment explodes out of his body and over the edge of the platform into the lava. Fortunately, the blackrock gem he carries doesn't sink. I rest and then go retrieve it with a "Flameproof" spell.
I find Zaria's quarters in the southwest. It's protected by a FLAM rune, so I have a reason to use "Dispel Rune." I figured Zaria would be one of Bishop's resistance fighters, but she doesn't have much to offer. She's happy I killed Dorstag and she's eager to take his place as the ruler of the Arena. I tell her I won't be around long enough for her to worry about me, and she doesn't challenge me. 
There are a lot of other warriors, mages, even a goblin on the level, but I find no one else with a specific name or unique dialog. I also don't find an obvious "place of power" at which to use Altara's staff. Thus, I head down the stairs into the dungeons beneath the arenas. It opens into a set of rough-hewn caverns where I have to kill about 50 bats. Other caverns have mongbats and gazers. In the midst of massacring some headless, I finally hit Level 14.
I just love the way bats die.
I stumble upon an earth golem behind a secret door. He's guarding a treasure chest with a Potion of Regain Mana, a few runes (alas, no FLAM), several gems, a jeweled shield, and a potion I can't identify. A room with some giant spiders has a Wand of Mending.
I suppose I should be trying to defeat them with spells. Some mage I am.
I come to a room in which pits are disappearing and appearing at intervals. Very weirdly, there's a group of peaceful skeletons hanging around on a ledge on the edge of the room. I study the pattern and make my way safely across to the exit. The exit leads to a bridge that crosses high above the original cavern that I entered, then enters a new set of tunnels. A sign warns me to go back.
What are you guys even doing?
I proceed and find a familiar sight: a pentagram with the slaughtered remains of some idiot summoner. Runes are scattered everywhere, but I don't need any. Surprisingly, Altara's staff doesn't work here. 
This exact scene seems to come up in a lot of worlds.
I find a Dungeon Master-like puzzle in a set of rooms connected by portcullises, some open, some closed. A series of buttons opens some and closes others. I have to find my way to the southeast exit. This takes me to the multi-colored chambers of Zoranthus. He knows at once that I'm from another world, and he has heard of Britannia. He laments his world's takeover by the Guardian, but he has been spending his time on other pursuits, including trapping a djinn in a magic container. He gives me the step-by-step instructions for doing this, which I imagine is going to become necessary at some point. But he also says he'll give me the djinn he's trapped in exchange for the Sceptre of the Deadly Seeker, which one of his colleagues lost somewhere.
Zoranthus's lair is weirdly unfurnished, but he's taken the time to paint each wall and floor panel.
I don't know if I'll find the Sceptre in this world or another one, so I continue on. A demon called a "hordling" blocks the way to the lower level, so I kill him and go down to Level 3 of the Pits of Carnage.
These guys look like they should be harder than they are.
I soon find a puzzle room that I defeat by simply casting "Open" on the locked portcullises. There's a scepter in here, but I don't know if it's The Sceptre. Further along, I meet a reaper--a sinister black-colored one--which I kill with some difficulty. To get to a passage behind him, I first have to break up some rocks with a pick, then cast "Jump." The chamber has some decent loot, including a Leather Cap of Missile Protection, a Potion of Iron Flesh, Gauntlets of Major Toughness (these replace my non-magical chain gauntlets), a VAS rune, and a Wand of Magic Arrow. 
To clarify: I don't mean that all black things are automatically "sinister." It's just an evil-looking color for a reaper because reapers are made out of wood and wood isn't normally black.
I kill a couple more headless in a nearby corridor and I'm suddenly Level 15. I have no idea what gave me so many points since the last level. The reaper? 
I come to a door. An etched brick out front says: "Blog House and Rocks." Behind the door is a friendly troll named Blog who collects rocks. He wants to play a game called "white-rock-black-rock" in which the goal is to pick the white rock. The rocks aren't hidden or anything. You just have to not forget the rules in the time it takes you to pick up either a white rock or a black rock. The game goes on forever, and I have to tell Blog no, I don't want to play anymore, several times before I can extricate myself from the conversation. The only other dialogue option I have with Blog is that I need help getting a blackrock gem, but of course I don't. I guess maybe he'll help you fight against Dorstag?
This got old quickly.
I kill a few regular reapers before finding myself back at the stairs. I'm about to leave, but I check the map and see a secret area behind a dead-end passage that I didn't search thoroughly enough. I return, "Open" the door, and enter. There's a hostile ghost just beyond, which delights me because I've been holding on to a Wand of Smite Undead forever. One charge takes care of him. Beyond him are two skeletons, another ghost, and a lich, all of which I manage to kill by leading them down the corridor one at a time. The lich has some wands and potions and such, plus a FLAM rune.
This is an unpleasant-looking place.
I return to Zoranthus, but the scepter I found isn't the one he wants. I return to the upper level and give the FLAM rune to Zogith. In gratitude, he teaches me a new spell called "Valor" (QUAS AN CORP). I'll have to test it out. I also figure out the room that links to the Guardian--the pit beneath the trap door where he tosses prisoners. I use Altara's staff there and sever his connection. 
I guess some prisoners don't survive the landing.
On the way out of here, I decide to save time by leaping off the bridge that goes across the entrance cavern. Something amazing happens: I manage to leap onto the back of a bat. I didn't even know that was possible. Unfortunately, the bat doesn't fly all around the room with the Avatar balancing on its torso, which would have been awesome. It just freezes in place. I can't swing my sword to kill it at this angle, so I eventually just drop off. Still, this is the beginning of the era of fun, unanticipated stuff made possible by certain game engines.

With 28 (?!) skill points to spend, I'm anxious to get back to Britannia for some training. But a final discovery gives me an idea for how I can spend some of the cash I've been accumulating. Just before I left the second level of the Pits of Carnage, I found a Wand of Daylight with 4 charges. I've been casting "Daylight" all along, but it's an expensive spell that sometimes backfires. I'd love to be able to cast it from a wand for a while. I take it to Merzan in Killorn Keep and pay not nearly all my gold and gems to add 15 more charges to the wand.
I find a good "money sink." The Wand of Mending would be another good one to give this treatment.
Ironically, I then visit Altara, who teaches the spell "Enchantment" (VAS ORT YLEM), which recharges wands and adds new enchantments to unenchanted items. I also spend some of my skill points with her on "Casting" and "Mana." I immediately try "Enchantment" and turn my regular plate boots into Plate Boots of Minor Toughness. That's a pretty useful spell. Too bad all my stuff is enchanted now.
One thing I forgot to mention is that the Guardian continued to taunt me in dreams every fifth or sixth time I rested. His taunts suggest that his forces are rolling across Britannia while we're trapped in the castle. 
Does anyone know who any of those people are?
I enjoyed the Pits of Carnage. The second two levels felt like a real dungeon for the first time since the beginning of the game--a place where you don't know what's around each corner, you face a variety of monsters, and every nook might hold a new treasure. The first Underworld was basically eight levels of such exploration, and I've missed it ever since starting the sequel. 

All my fiddling with the spell system has confirmed for me that I don't really like it. The interface is the primary problem. It takes too long to transition to the rune screen, and once there, it takes too long to click on the individual runes. It's also easy, particularly in the heat of combat, to over-click on the runes and have to wipe the shelf and start over. Origin should have done several things here, including making it possible to type keys for the runes, allowing the player to store more than one string of runes at a time, and pausing the game while the spell interface is active. Thus, despite all my investigations, not to mention my class, I'll probably continue to favor my weapon for most of the rest of the game.
We'll pick up next time with happenings in Castle Britannia and with my visit to what has to be the penultimate or final world. In the meantime, I'm happy to hear alternate opinions on those spells. 
Time so far: 40 hours


  1. Really are you replaying Wiz4? You are the MAN!

    1. It could be that Chet just roleplaying a man for this blog and in reality he is a space hamster

    2. hamsters in spaace!

    3. Way to go Chet! I am so excited, that you fire it up once again! I don't know the specific reason for your replay, but i really would like to see a replay of Dungeon Master. Know that your on the point, that the age of the blobbers comes to an end, you would see DM from a whole new point of view. And so would we ;o)

  2. The troll with white rock / black rock is indeed able to help you, I think there's a couple ways you can deal with Dorstag. I don't remember if the troll can be an 'I win' button but you can certainly discover a way to piss him off and challenge you so you can fight him in the Earth arena or something.

    1. If I remember -- and it's been many, many years -- you can intentionally lose the white-rock-black-rock game by repeatedly picking the black rock, and that convinces the troll to help you fight Dorstag.

  3. The first person dungeon crawler Amulets & Armor maps runes to the number pad with keypad Return to cast the currently shelved spell. A skilled player can prepare and spew out all kinds of things in rapid succession... if you were ever to get enough mana to do so. :(

  4. I think the best way for them to fix the spell system would have been to allow something like 5 "quick slots" that you can select a specific spell for and just hit a button to cast those.

    For the troll with the white/black rock game, in rot13: gel hfvat n terl ebpx.

    The game does show it's strength with the number of different ways you can actually deal with Dorstag, you can trick him into challenging you so you chose the arena, you can just fight him straight like you did, you can get the help of the troll, or just slaughter him and all his cronies in their base.

  5. I'm curious why you don't use a lantern instead of casting the various light spells.

    1. A lantern is extra encumbrance, especially with the extra oil, and doesn't light up as much of the surrounding area.

    2. The "light spheres" from Talorus are awesome for this - work as a daylight spell, are rechargeable (recharge station in Talorus), and very lightweight.

  6. On your replay of the Academy, did you find the skeleton that is clearly Elster with the note from his mother?

    1. No, I missed that. I wonder what happened to him. That's too bad.

  7. Valor spell improves combat effectiveness, but you'll likely to not notice the difference because Chain Cowl of Valor already keeps that spell effect active.

    I also wonder if Poison Weapons works with unarmed attacks. If not, it makes the unarmed character build less viable.

  8. Hmmm. IN AN FLAM translates as "Create Negation of Fire", which makes me think it's for putting out fires, not for hurting people.

    1. The problem is that the system (which goes back to U5) doesn't have a syllable for "frost." "Not fire" or "the opposite of fire" is the closest they could come up with. IN AN FLAM is clearly meant to be some kind of "frost" spell.

    2. In Serpent Isle they finally introduce a new syllable for cold.

  9. I am big fan of commented lists. Commented list of spells, commented list of monsters, commented lists of NPC, I love them all, there is a little Umberto Eco in me.

    If I could upvote this post, I would upvote it.

    1. I always enjoy reading about Chet's take on spells as well. Particularly, which ones he finds useful and those he doesn't utilize for various reasons.

  10. Hmm, regarding opinions on spells: bleed as you discovered is probably the best combat spells against most enemies (skeletons and some creatures are immune). It's not only that it doesn't have the room to release requirement, the damage also scales with your casting skill, which is not normal for UW spells.

    The Mend Item spell has a few surprising applications since the game uses durability for a few other things. For example, you can use it to replenish light sources - for example, there's the light sphere from the Talorus dimension I like to use it on.

    Valor is a fairly strong buff spell that effectively increases your weapon spell, but I think you won't see an effect as long as you have the chain coif of valor equipped - that one just gives you the same buff.

    The axe of fire doom you found is the best weapon in the game, but you need to keep Resist Fire on yourself to not kill yourself.

    1. The axe is very good but the Sword of Stone Strike is better

    2. It really isn't.

      Sure, it negates any one enemy, but the Axe works against multiple enemies at the same time and kills them much faster. Without doing an exact measurement, I would expect the axe to reduce the length of most fight by a factor of 10 versus the sword.

      The axe also works against a wider range of enemies. The sword doesn't even work on the most powerful enemies in the world where you find it.

  11. You also needed to know that axe was there at the beginning of the game, so you could develop axe skill.

    1. I certainly knew there were axes in the game. Overall, UU2 has done a decent job distributing magical weapons of all types so no one is harmed terribly by his or her choice about where to invest weapons points.

    2. Fear not, the best weapon in the game is indeed a sword

  12. This has made me realise just how little I use magic in Ultima games, despite usually going for magic classes only in games later than this (I think Baldur's Gate was probably where I switched over? or perhaps Ultima 8 since that had a very interesting magic system).

    Mostly it's useful for utility reasons (opening locks, light, and telekinesis and such), but with Underworld there always seemed to be plenty of wands and scrolls.

    1. The series itself started orienting the game more towards "might" than "magic" . Take for example U3-5 where you could have mages in the party. In U6, I think you could find a 2nd spellbook and give it to a party member but it would be cumbersome for him/her to use. From U7 onwards only the Avatar can cast spells.

      And also from U7 onwards, the engines make it hard to play as a spellcaster (casting spells in U8 was arggghhh)

    2. To be fair, melee combat was just as arggghhh in Ultima 8 and once you get it the Call Destruction spell is what totally trivializes Ultima 8 enemies once you get it.

      Of course, melee combat was even worse before the patch that removed the Avatar getting knocked down all the time.

  13. When I first read the title of the post I had super Deja vu when I read "Enchantment!". Where Have I heard that word said with excitement? Then I remembered. It was the son of the Dwarven merchant in Dragon Age. Enchantment?? ENCHANTMENT!!

    1. I also associate 'Enchantment!' with Dragon Age. It always brings a smile on my face, just as it did here.

  14. I find it frustrating when games are full of spells, equipment, or character options that are just clearly inferior or even worthless. I feel like the developers screwed up and should have given each option a purpose or a balanced profile of strengths and weaknesses.

    But am I missing something? Is a world with these junk options in it more realistic or interesting? Is it fun for some people to sort through the chaff to discover what really works?

    1. It usually isn't a deliberate decision. Few creative works are planned out entirely in advance and then methodically and precisely created according to the plan.

      Stuff gets moved around. Things are added, things are deleted. Maintaining a Perfect Balance of your options is difficult to do in such a situation. When you add a leveling system and the possibility of finding -or not finding- things in the Intended Order, it becomes impossible.

      Sometimes there's no good because the developers liked more and kept adding that instead.

      Other times there's no good because the player found a decent first and they skilled up to the point where even a very good is subpar.

      Sometimes it is as simple as other changes having unexpected results. Tweak one formula, and you can sometimes have everything in useless because the changed formula cripples them.

    2. I don't think your missing anything as such, but besides what Gnoman said, I do have a couple considerations.

      A world with only useful items and options would feel more artificial. Skyrim e.g. does the lived world quite well. In this era both development was quite rapid (limited playtesting), and the concept was not understood as well. Sometimes resulting in doing things that hurt the game experience in the name of realism.

      Or for a back of the box feature list, e.g. "Dozens of spells"

      Second, there is something to be said for expressive power of games. I did a throwing weapons focused playthrough of Deus Ex. It was not balanced at all, kind of terrible really, because of their low range. And I ran out of them constantly. But the game allowed me to play it that way.

  15. "The second two levels felt like a real dungeon for the first time since the beginning of the game--a place where you don't know what's around each corner, you face a variety of monsters, and every nook might hold a new treasure. The first Underworld was basically eight levels of such exploration, and I've missed it ever since starting the sequel."

    This is a very interesting point that I'd like to elaborate on. Why exactly does Underworld 1 have such a great sense of exploration, and why is it different in Underworld 2? From memory, I thought that the levels in UW2 didn't really "grab" me, whereas UW1's exploration seems quite unmatched to me.

    Is one of the causes that the theme of the levels have changed - that you're exploring floating fortresses or icy caves instead of classical dungeons? If not, what is the reason? It seems that the developers spared no effort to surprise the player with new, fresh levels to explore. Are UW2's levels designed in a way that the player already knows what's around each corner?

    One possible reason is that UW2's levels are separated into clusters (worlds) that are individually shallow and easily understood; that the player quickly learns the expectations of the current world and then the events in the levels are in a narrower range compared to a level in Underworld 1. The fact that the range of events in all levels is maybe more diverse than in UW1 does not make up for this because at each moment, the possible upcoming events are more predictable. The surprises are "bundled" when entering a new world, but in that case the player already expects to see a completely new world, so it's no real surprise, thus being less satisfying despite the developers's best efforts.

    1. Your comment crystalized a lot of what I'd been thinking about the game. I agree with the mystery you pose in the second paragraph and think you're nearing the solution in the last one. I'll be thinking about this more for the final entry.

    2. Is it like having a novel vs a collection of short stories?

    3. @Chet: Looking forward to it!

      @Tristan: Well, that's a succinct comparison, but what lessons can be derived from it?

      I'm interested in what lessons game designers and level designers can draw from Underworld 1 to foster a sense of exploration. Maybe there are similar rules for novelists to foster a sense of wonder? (I'm using the word "wonder" instead of "exploration" because the reader is passive.)

      The larger and more interconnected the playfield or story, the better? Maybe, but already the first level of Underworld 1 was enough to create the feeling of exploring an intriguing place.

      Should some parts of the playfield or story unravel only slowly or be only hinted at, like Tolkien's distant mountains behind the fog? (I can't find the relevant quote - I think it was how the Silmarillion told the backstory behind the Lord of the Rings.) Maybe, but Underworld 1 doesn't do much of that either.

  16. I'm surprised you enjoyed the Pits of Carnage, I always thought it was one of the worst designed worlds. It's like it wants to look like a dungeon, but artificially so, in comparison to most of the Ultima Underworld 1 levels.

  17. You may use the Enchant spell on the same item multiple times. It strengthens the level of the enchantment (minor e.g. protection -> [no adjective] -> considerable -> major -> great -> unsurpassed --- or something along those lines). I'd recommend casting this on all your stuff multiple times, until it's reached "unsurpassed" level.

    Also, when casting this on an as yet unenchanted item, the type of enchantment may be chosen at random. For armor, "protection" is the much better keyword than "toughness"...

    1. Even with a high casting skill you either need to have a lot of items to go through or save scum though to get it to that level.

      There's an increasing chance of the item blowing up with more enchantments layer.

    2. Never happened for me... but then, I never got the "Levitate" spell to work, either. Maybe some minor bugs in my version (was a later CD-ROM anthology version that was only sold in Germany, I believe).

  18. Blog is unnecessary for you now that you already have the Blackrock. But I believe he allows you to completely bypass the Dorstag fight because Blog will go upstairs and scare Dorstag into giving you the gem. To win his favor I think you might be able to lose a bunch of times in a row, but the better trick is to give him a GREY rock. It blows his mind, as it is both Black AND White and he loves it.

  19. > In the northwest corner, I find the chambers of Dorstag, whose name means "thonder."

    Clearly another of those LHC changes...

    > I finally defeat him by cheesing the interface a bit... I watch helplessly as a lot of presumably good equipment explodes out of his body

    You cheese the interface and it cheeses back.

    1. "In the northwest corner, I find the chambers of Dorstag, whose name means 'thonder." I screwed up that joke on two levels. First, the text was supposed to say that his name means "Thorsday," the joke being that Durstag is "Thursday" in German, so Dorstag would be "Thorsday." Ha ha. Only while I was typing it, my mind somehow transformed "Thorsday" into "thonder." To make it even worse, I guess that Durstag isn't even "Thursday" in German. Triple fail.

    2. "To make it even worse, I guess that Durstag isn't even "Thursday" in German."

      It isn't; it's "Donnerstag" - a literal translation would be "Day of Thunder" or "Thunder's Day". AFAIR the day was named after "Donar", which is another name of Thor. So "Donarstag" ("Donnerstag") really is "Thorstag" in a way.

  20. Although someone mentioned the longsword of Stone Strike as not all that useful, it was practically a (late) game-changer for me. I have no idea how long I've even been carrying it un-identified and unused. But now I've started using it and a surprising number of creatures are stonable. Multiple enemies - no issues, just give them each a swat until they stop moving. If I'm having trouble with those that can't be stoned, I switch back to the jeweled longsword of Great Damage - which I'll probably upgrade up to Unsurpassed Damage at some point. On that note: #2 game changer was learning the Enchant Item spell. Suddenly my two pieces of protection-enchanted gear (shield and ring) are useful and my damage intake is much lower. My other gear is functional enchants: Missile Protection (swapped out from Valor), Flameproof, Stealth, and two Toughness pieces that I'll replace when I find protection or functional enchantments for those slots. A lot of battles become trivial when you're immune (completely or mostly) from most of the enemy's attacks or they're standing around as a statue.

    1. Did anyone really say it wasn't useful? I agree with you. I felt it trivialized most combats after I found it. I had to deliberately drop it in the final battle to create any challenge at all.


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